“I’ve sought balance all my life. [Living] on two different continents and trying to be accepted by both meant that I had to find a point where I could marry both sides of the story into one book…I was raised in two beautiful cultures that have shaped my personality and how I see the world. It has allowed me to feel at home while I travel because I can communicate in so many different ways. Most of all though, I think growing up with so many labels has taught me empathy. I think the fact that I’ve had to learn to switch from one culture to another, or one language to another has allowed me to easily put myself in other people’s shoes and feel that sense of empathy.”
Have you ever heard the expression, “there’s three sides to a story: one person’s version, the other person’s version… And the truth.”? We’re not sure where or when this saying originated, but we can make an educated guess as to what the point is. As a matter of fact, the she.lace team had a little debate about the implicit and explicit meaning… BUT, the three of us had to agree to disagree. We just couldn’t get a balanced and unified position we could all gravitate towards. We certainly could’ve benefited from the involvement of an impartial voice. Kind of like when two people have two versions to the “same” story, and an impartial third party is required to provide a balanced account. 1, 2, 3…balance! Interesting… 1, 2, 3 balance. she.lace has a theory about the power of balance: it can’t be quantified or qualified. The “quality” part is self-explanatory, but allow us to expound on the “quantity” part. Let’s use a cycle as an example shall we. As a mode of transportation, you can use: 1) Unicycle, 2) Bicycle or 3) Tricycle. Now, some of these options may require more centre of gravity than the others…but once balance is perfected they all help you move. Perhaps that’s the wisdom within the expression “it’s like riding a bike”… The power of balance!
she.lace knows of a magical young woman who’s a “cultural tricycle” (come to think of it, her energy & power is more like a T-rex three-wheeler). Can you imagine the dilemma, maybe even a paradox, of being so multifaceted that you “fit in” as much as you “stand out”. Even though she.lace advocates STRONGLY that a stand out shouldn’t try to fit in…we completely sympathize with the burden of being so culturally diverse that an individual can be accepted just as much as they are ostracized. It’s like being in a perpetual space of feeling like an insider-outsider. In this kind of situation, one thing that can keep you grounded is being balanced. Excuse us, we mean the “Power of Balance” and we have a French-Canadian Muslim of Egyptian heritage to showcase that power (although you may not actually “see” her power, keep reading and you’ll understand why). She speaks three languages fluently, immerses herself in three cultures, represents all facets of her identity PROUDLY while ensuring nothing is compromised at the expense of another, dispels stereotypes about her faith by simply being herself, puts the “j” (for jubilant) in journalism, destroys any cuisine of food placed in front of her and makes the invisible visible. Introducing the first hybrid Arabic-Canadian superhero, Super Egyptian… But her mother calls her Yasmine Hassan.
Super Egyptian has many intangible skills that make her she.lace’s official superhero. For instance, in her day job as Yasmine she’s a journalist with the Canadian Broadcast Corporation who works up to 14 different roles…double digits people! She finds subtle ways to show she’s of three worlds through her incredible TV/radio documentary and print work (specifically her articles written for The Islamic Monthly publication). And, in her sworn duty to debunk & clarify all misconceptions concerning her faith she uses the power of balance to evenly represent issues of all subjects. And besides all that she’s just a supernatural form of positive energy, intelligence, a great sense of humour and an AMAZING appetite. We hope you’re hungry, enjoy the Kushari dish in the Q&A. Oh, and just know there’s more than what you see!
Soooo, in the videos promoting this week’s blog we promised “the people” a translation…it’s only fair we make good on that promise. What did you say?
Yasmine: Haha! What I say is: “Don’t worry! Super Egyptian has arrived!” And this was after I jumped off a ledge that turned out to be a lot higher than I thought when I first suggested the jump.
You’re trilingual…you speak three languages, THREE (show-off haha). How is this the case?
Yasmine: So, I grew up in Montreal in an Egyptian household which meant that I would speak to my parents in Arabic, I would watch English television and because of Bill 101, I would go to school in French. Much of this was a mess when I was child, I would start a sentence in one language, throw in a few words in another and finish on the third language. It definitely took a while to compartmentalize everything and be able to use one language at a time. The question still is which language do I use when I get mad, because I can be angry in all three languages!
Who is Yasmine Hassan, and how does each of the three languages she speaks influence who she is?
Yasmine: Who is Yasmine Hassan is a question I still have trouble answering because I feel like there’s so many sides to my being. One of the hardest questions I get asked is “where are you from?” because I never really know what to say. I look Egyptian but I was born in Canada, I’m a tourist in Egypt but then again I’m not actually Canadian, am I? Being able to speak three languages makes things even more confusing because I can relate to three different cultures: Arabic, English and French Canadian. So I listen to French music sometimes and eat French food, but then I’ll watch English movies and go to an Arabic dinner. The languages I speak have allowed me to be immersed in these cultures completely. They’ve all added to who I am in some way. I love the fact that I can glide through different cultures so easily.
What does the word “balance” mean to you and why is it important?
Yasmine: I’ve sought balance all my life. Dancing on two different continents and trying to be accepted by both meant that I had to find a point were I could marry both sides of the story into one book. As I answer your questions, I’m listening to English songs that have been remixed by an artist [Ahmed Alshaiba] that plays an Arabic guitar called a Oud. He created the perfect balance of east and west and turned it into a beautiful melody. I hope that I can be a harmonious melody one day and find that balance.
Sidetone: Dancing?! she.lace couldn’t help but ask if Super Egyptian was an international dancer. She made in known very quickly that the furthest she goes is a simple 2-step and a smooth head rock. According to her, “grace” isn’t her middle name.
“I dance like an absolute fool and own the fact that I have little to no rhythm whatsoever. But I will bust out my moves on a dance floor any day! If it’s Arabic music, I know what to do. Everything else leaves me confused and doing little kicks like Elaine from Seinfeld. Hahahaha.”
Well, that’s the BEST combination of Bad Gal Ri Ri and Elaine we’ve ever seen 😂
You’re a Montreal-born Muslim Canadian of Egyptian Heritage, what does this mean to you?
Yasmine: Oh boy… It means a lot of things. First it means I’m a Montrealer, an identity I’ve gotten very comfortable using because people seem to expect hybrid beings like myself to come out of the city. It meant that I had to work harder to get to where I want to go because of my background, but that I had the support system of a community when times got tough. It meant that I was raised in two beautiful cultures that have shaped my personality and how I see the world. It has allowed me to feel at home while I travel because I could communicate in so many different ways. Most of all though, I think growing up with so many labels has taught me empathy. I think the fact that I’ve had to learn to switch from one culture to another or one language to another has allowed me to easily put myself in other people’s shoes and feel that sense of empathy.
Explain the meaning and story behind the t-shirt you wore to the photoshoot…
Yasmine: I bought that t-shirt the last time I was in Cairo which was in 2009. Going along with my quest to marry East and West, I liked the idea of an Arabic Superman t-shirt because it brought both worlds together. It’s one of my favourite t-shirts and it makes me feel invincible when I wear it, like I could do anything I put my mind to. It was made by local Egyptian designers [Nas Trends] who came out with the brand by creating funny and political t-shirts during the Arab Spring.
There’s a rumor going around that you’re a superhero by the name of “Super Egyptian” 😉. Complete this sentence, if I were a superhero my power would be _ _ _
Yasmine: The ability to be invisible.
Where (and for who) would you aim to utilize this power?
Yasmine: I think I’d like to be invisible so I can get to the places I can’t go or have trouble getting into. Growing up, I always tried to be the entertaining one in the group, the one everyone would gravitate to. But as I got older I realized I had more interesting experiences being the observer and just watching people interact with one another, and listening to the conversations adding a few words here and there. I think you can learn a lot more if you’re a fly on the wall with momentary lapses. I still like to make jokes and tell stories but I go to my superpower sometimes, and will simply observe my surroundings and try and see how things will play out. I hope that doesn’t sound creepy!!
What empowers you?
Yasmine: What empowers me… I think my will to succeed is what’s pushing me forward at the moment. I’ve come a long way to get to the point where I’m comfortable calling myself a journalist.
This field wasn’t exactly what my parents wanted for me and it was a struggle to get them on my side when I decided to jump into journalism. They had hoped that I would become an engineer like my dad or go to law school like my mom. So when I introduced the idea of journalism, the only thing they heard was instability and travelling to warzones. But they also know their daughter well and when an idea is set in my head, they know there’s very little that will stop me from doing what I want. Suffice to say that they are proud of me (I hope!) now with the achievements that I’ve accomplished. And they see more of a clear plan now than they did years ago. They’re definitely still worried that I will cover war at some point in my career but my will to succeed, to achieve my goals is what’s been fueling me this entire time. To them though, it’s just a matter of how stubborn I can be and how set in my ways I become.
Being a young empowered Muslim woman…What does women empowerment mean to you?
Yasmine: Women empowerment is a big topic and a lot of people are talking about it. I think, personally, it means being able to stand my ground and make my dreams come true without anyone really standing in my way. A lot of people think that growing up in the Muslim community means that men are in charge of my life and that misconception really upsets me. I grew up in a house where my mother was a strong-willed woman who had an amazing career and had her place in the family and in social settings. Her word was as strong as my dad’s word. And no one, till this day, can mess with mom and dad loves it! My parents cooperated, it was never my father’s way or the highway.
Credit: Instagram/ @_yasminehassan_
These stereotypes that people have of how my family dynamics work are crazy and so far detached from the truth, it actually makes me laugh sometimes. My mom raised me to be confident and strong, and to have faith in god and myself.
It’s tough to see people’s opinion about women in Islam because it really isn’t the case, at least not for my family or our friends. Women have a very important role in the faith. Looking back in history, women fought wars alongside the Prophet and even his wife was a prominent businesswoman when they married. This is the version of Islam I would hope people would understand. The version that my family shows, a mother of three who worked alongside her husband to create a family in a place far away from home.
How does it take shape?
Yasmine: How it takes shape… It takes shape when you embrace who you are. I’m still working on that, understanding who I am, but the more I get to know myself the more I realize that I’m capable and I can get through anything. I talk to so many friends who have this negative impression of themselves, we all say that we’re our own worst enemies and we need to stop that. We need to celebrate every success that comes our way, no matter how big or small. It’s a step in the right direction. Let’s not be shy to shine and to let our shine shine!
What do sneakers mean to you?
Yasmine: Sneakers are my saving grace. I live in them. I think sneakers are an amazing way to express yourself and show off your personality. And I always pick colourful sneakers so I can add some personality to my outfits. I feel like I can have fun with them in so many different ways, It’s just this feeling that I can do anything I want with them and I love that freedom, to be able to do what I want.
Why did you model for she.lace?
Yasmine: I love the idea! We’re always putting girls in these four inch heels that leave your feet bleeding at the end of the night, but to see all these beautiful women rocking their kicks and rocking at life is so refreshing and inspiring. I was honoured to be a part of it and be able to show off my favourite shoes!
What did you think of the location?
Yasmine: It was amazing! I loved jumping in the pool and bending the rules a little, and walking the grounds. There’s this wonderful silence to the space. It seems that as soon as you walk around it, people are quiet because they’re in awe of this structure. They’re busy looking around so the conversations die down, the cellphones disappear and they just take in their surroundings. I loved every second of that.
Explain the significance of your jewellery/accessories.
Yasmine: I have a bracelet with my name written out in Arabic letters that I got from a friend that designs jewelry in Montreal, Dina Kamal. I wanted something that would show off that side of my personality without it being too loud and this was the perfect piece. It’s nice and simple. The beaded bracelets are from Palestine, they’re made out of Olive Tree shavings. The Palestinian issue is something that I feel strongly about. I hope one day to make my way there but for now having a piece of it on my wrist is incredible. The green beads are from my trip to Vancouver.
I’ve always been into anchors. I can’t really explain why they speak to me, I think because I’m still looking for a place to connect to. Somewhere where I can put my anchor and feel at home. Or maybe it’ll be when I reach that balance, I can finally set my anchor to that time in my life where I feel completely comfortable. Fatima’s Hand is a cultural thing, many believe that it will bring luck to its wearer and will ward off the evil eye.
And the Buddha is from a recent trip to Spain, a close friend and I were on it together and we decided to buy matching bracelets to mark this trip. We grew up together and when I was moving to Toronto from Montreal, she was moving to Melbourne. So this way we can stay connected.
A time, or place, when Yasmine feels “completely comfortable” may be forever elusive. In lieu of those personal anchors she can set somewhere to feel “at home”… she has the power of balance to make her feel grounded. If all else fails, “home is where the heart is”… a truly invisible power that we’re confident Super Egyptian can relate to. Speaking of real estate, please have faith that she.lace brought Yasmine to a location she could feel just at home for the photoshoot.
Why were you so excited about the idea of doing it at the Aga Khan Museum?
Yasmine: First of all, it’s one of the most beautiful museums I’ve ever seen. With its simplicity, angles and colour, it’s just incredible. It always comes back to this idea of marrying both cultures. This structure holds stories of an exotic world and exists right here in Toronto. Sort of the same way I have stories from the streets of Cairo but I exist here.
Toronto is home to several world class museums, all of which can bestow valuable knowledge upon any visitor. With that being said, there’s one in particular that stands out amongst its peers. It’s not because it’s design is on an aesthetic “echelon” higher than the others (all museums in the city have illustrious structures). No, it’s not because of appearances…it’s because of what’s inside, literally and figuratively. Let’s just say this opulence of history has a way of raising your spirits: The Aga Khan Museum.
In 2014, the North York area of the city of Toronto became home to the first North American museum devoted to Islamic art, tradition and cultures. she.lace would like to place an emphasis on the plurality of “cultures”…not a singular culture. Reason being, that’s exactly what the faith of islam encompasses. Case and point, our superheroic model is a self-described Arabic of Egyptian culture belonging to the Sunni denomination of Islam. Whereas the Aga Khan Museum was spearheaded by the Aga Khan Development Network (led by His Highness the Aga Khan) of the Shia Imami Ismaili denomination.
Different cultures, customs and traditions…joined by the same faith and part of the same community, the muslim community. This is the kind of diversity the Aga Khan Museum is trying to educate the world about, but it isn’t limited to just the muslim community…the Mission of this cultural institution is to bridge the gap between all world(s) of faith, culture, nationality and religion: “The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada offers visitors a window into worlds unknown or unfamiliar… Its mission is to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution that Muslim civilizations have made to world heritage. Through education, research, and collaboration, the Museum will foster dialogue and promote tolerance and mutual understanding among people.”
Sidenote: While visiting the museum she.lace had to explore the entire 6.8 hectare complex including the Aga Khan Park and adjacent Ismaili Centre. And, this is how we discovered the true “Power of Balance” about this wonderful location: the secular and the sacred. Innocently enough, we were setting up to take a picture along the exterior of the Ismaili Centre when a security guard very politely approached us and explained no photography was allowed at the site. We immediately understand why and, further, had an instant appreciation that there was a deliberate attempt to preserve the sanctity of this spiritual and culturally vital hub. The 100-metre wide, Islamic inspired Chahar bagh, courtyard is all that separates the two buildings. As much as the site has been engineered to educate, share and inform there’s a concerted effort to respect and retain the sacred spiritual elements of the faith.
This is a traditional museum in more ways than one. It’s a showcase of the many integral contributions Muslim cultures have made to civilizations, from ancient to the contemporary. The impressive collection of 1000 permanent objects do exactly that. Moreover, the art and artifacts (spanning over 1000 years of history) show the connections between cultures across the world, and time. Through the use of exhibitions, workshops, artifacts, theatre, lectures, film screenings and live music/dance performances visitors are taken on an exploration of various Muslim civilizations. For a community comprising of nearly a quarter of the world’s population, the plurality and diversity of Muslim cultures are largely misunderstood. This Museum offers fresh perspectives and insights which inevitably provides knowledge, and creates understanding, for both Muslim and non-Muslim communities. It’s more than just “the collection, research, preservation, interpretation and display of works of art, objects and artifacts of artistic, cultural and historical significance from various periods and geographic areas of the Muslim world.” It’s the power of balance…it puts on display the ethnic, geographical, cultural, linguistic and social diversity of the peoples of Islam.
Standing outside in the Aga Khan Park you become so enveloped in a serene quiet that you almost forget it’s located in an industrial corporate area overlooking one of Toronto’s loudest highways, near Don Mills road and Eglinton Avenue. As Yasmine mentioned, it’s part of the allure of the place…everything becomes still. So, if you’re ever in the mood to gain a understanding of the intellectual (scientific and religious) and artistic contributions various Muslim heritages have made to the world past and present we suggest you take a trip on the Don Valley Parkway exit at Wynford Drive, and be prepared to be dazzled.
Now, let’s discuss what happens when you combine the popular name for the Canadian dollar coin and some good music. We’ll only have one more corny pun for the rest of this post, and then we promise…”That’ll be all folks!”
Looney Tunes! Sooo, we actually wanted to name a musicIan or recording artist who’s a little “eccentric” as the hint for looney, but we figured that could stir up an unyielding debate. Remember a few blogs back when we gave a well-deserved nod to Converse’s history of using the Chuck Taylor All Star as a “canvas” for art? If you were born anytime before 1995, we’re going to assume at some point you were fortunate enough to experience the “quintessential” North American childhood Saturday morning: cereal for breakfast, chores you dreaded, a trip to the grocery store and CARTOONS. One of the cartoons, was the Looney Tunes….we have no “sufferin succotash” doubt about it. Along with her weekly weekend trip to Arabic class, this was part of Yasmine’s childhood routine:
“Growing up, I was obsessed with Looney Tunes. I loved them so much that I’d wake up early on weekends just to watch the show. I had tons of t-shirts with the characters on them. Most of what I wore as a kid was Looney Tunes. So when they came out, it was a no brainer to me, I had to have them! With the ones in this shoot, I brought back my childhood love for Looney Tunes. All the characters are there, making funny faces. My family wasn’t surprised when they saw them, they laughed and said ‘Of course Yasmine would buy Looney Tunes sneakers!’
Sidenote: Hold up! There’s a Converse Chuck Taylor All Star she.lace trend that’s unavoidable, so we have to mention it. Trilingual, Montreal, Chucks, Journalist, Yasmine…this is surreal. The Yasmines are set to take over the world! she.lace can envision the superhero cartoon series: Super Egyptian and Super Fro’, restoring the power of balance in the world while Travelling to Destiny.
These sneakers are as creative as they’re playful. Some of us may not be the biggest fan of the mosaic style (it can appear a bit cluttered and, from a distance, you can’t distinguish the intricate details) and would rather a focus on one element. But, just think of it like this…a mosaic is supposed to be a collection of things that, in totality, form a solitary image. Well, to she.lace (and our heroic model) this “image” is a masterpiece. For us, part of the appeal is definitely that rush of nostalgia we get from just looking at the sneakers…it’s almost like we get to travel back in time through that same colourful vortex Bugs Bunny always popped up from. If that doesn’t do it for you, just take a look at the details applied to each character on the sneaker…this is an example of art on sneakers a its finest.
A superhero who spends her spare time running around the grounds of a museum that pays tribute to her faith and beliefs. Take pride in who you’re and what you represent, but don’t take yourself too seriously. That’s the lesson to be learned from Yasmine. Of course, there are those times when even the most light-hearted individuals would rather be invisible and out of sight (perhaps even out of mind). But, Super Egyptian’s use of invisibility is actually a “display” of courage. This Arabic All Star would use that ability to learn and observe… she would rather listen than talk. And that’s her power of balance, the knowledge that you can learn so much about yourself by listening and observing others. With that being said, just like Yasmine, we implore you to believe that nothing and nobody can define you…other than you. Muslim, French-Canadian, Egyptian. Yasmine determines what these things mean to her and how they’re codependent in defining her. More importantly, Super Egyptian reports to the world that the faith of Islam, Montreal flavour and Arabic culture can, and are, perfectly fused. So, yes she’s Muslim…no, she doesn’t wear a Hijab or any religious headdress…yes, she’s an independent autonomous woman without domineering men dictating her life movements…no, she’s not a graceful dancer… Yes, she has a very visible distinguished “taste pallet”. Next time you’re feeling a little off kilter just take a moment to find your power of balance. If you’re anything like Super Egyptian, you’ll probably look down at your comical sneakers and let out a good laugh.